I’ll start with a confession. It was the title that grabbed my attention: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean. I’m a big fan of the late Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So when I saw Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino’s book, wedged among other business books at a local bookstore, I pulled it out to look at the cover, and then the copyright page (2006). What? A new book about Lean? Wasn’t lean pass — one of those trends, along with downsizing, re-engineering and quality circles gathering dustbunnies under some consultant’s bed?
Not according to the authors.
I read the 200-page book in an afternoon and was inspired enough to take notes. (I have Master’s in Management and remembered learning about Lean when the Japanese auto industry began its assault on GM, Ford and Chrysler.) So I was curious: Could the lessons of lean be applied to IT and outsourcing? Was there a relationship between lean principles and agile programming? What metrics could IT shops use to measure their “Lean Quotient”?
1. Directly observe work as activities, connections, and flows. In other words, get off your duff and see the current reality with your own eyes. Reminds me of “management by walking around” and the “as is” part of an IT proposal.
2. Eliminate waste systematically. Over-processing and over-engineering are common sources of waste, but excessive handoffs and poor understanding of a process flow are right up there.
3. Establish high agreement of what and how. The authors don’t simply mean standardization. Instead, they talk turkey about turf, ambiguity and ruts.
4. Solve problems systematically. The scientific method isn’t just something your kids learn in school. Lean advocates embrace the scientific method, and that makes it easy to avoid confusing activity with productivity. Lean is about experimentation and metrics, not tools – or even principles such as these.
5. Create a learning organization. Lean isn’t a destination — it’s a process and a journey, just like lifelong learning. As the authors state in their Introduction, “Like hitchhikers, lean practitioners sometimes don’t know where the journey will leadÉ” and “Remember, hitchhikers don’t travel a fixed path. They intentionally wander so they can learn and change along the way.”
Not only are the authors purveyors of Lean, they’re also great story tellers. In the chapter on pitfalls, they recount how a Tier 1 automotive supplier used billboards that proudly proclaimed tallies such as “14,751 kaizens and counting”. Bad idea, say the authors, noting that “event lean” isn’t genuine lean. They invoke Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare to make another pitfall point: Don’t sit in endless meetings and study things to death. They contrast the outcomes of Chrysler’s Chrysler Operating System (COS) initiative, which was crippled by leadership turnover and DTE Energy’s well-planned initial 24-month rollout of its Lean initiative.
Sourcingmag.com readers might be tempted to jump right to chapter 8, Lean Service, where the authors, among other things, remind us that you should sweat the small stuff. Problem-solving the Lean way means looking through those Lean glasses at functions, relationships and flows. The authors admit that service industries such as publishing, education and the healthcare sector have historically resisted even considering Lean principles, thinking it’s something that only applies to manufacturing — a myth that the authors debunk in their Pitfalls chapter. So even if the book doesn’t offer any specific advice about IT — or about outsourcing, for that matter — it doesn’t matter. Lean is an approach; it’s something that gets embedded in your and your organization’s DNA.
Does this strike home? Does it set you thinking? If it does, I think you’ll enjoy the book. It’s a quick read; it’s extremely well organized and it even has a chapter on Personal Lean with ideas for implementing Lean in your own life and/or Lean-resistant work environment. The final chapter is another gem with “Conversations from the Road.” In it, five leaders respond to the same provocative list of questions.
Who knows? A quick read and you could end up by seeing the world through a pair of Lean glasses.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean: Lessons from the Road
Lean Learning Center
“Lean in Outsourcing”
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